Thursday, March 29, 2012

Alumni Lecture on Siblings in Family Therapy

Ackerman Alum
Ackerman Institute for the Family hosted a presentation by Dr. Jeanne Safer on Friday, March 23, 2012. The lecture is part of the quarterly Alumni Association meetings, where Ackerman Alumni gather at the Institute to learn about the latest advances in family therapy and enjoy a presentation from therapists at the forefront of the field.

Dr. Safer discussed the topic of siblings in family therapy, a subject rarely addressed in family therapy. She described the difficulties associated with growing up with siblings who have serious emotional or physical problems. In addition, Dr. Safer talked about how to work towards resolutions among siblings.

Dr. Jeanne Safer
Dr. Safer’s books include Cain’s Legacy: Liberating Siblings from a Lifetime of Rage, Shame, Secrecy and Regret (January 2012); The Normal One: Life with a Difficult or Damaged Sibling, Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life without Children; Forgiving and Not Forgiving: Why Sometimes It’s Better NOT to Forgive; and Death Benefits: How Losing a Parent Changes an Adult’s Life—For the Better. Both The Normal One and Beyond Motherhood were Books for a Better Life Finalists for the year’s best self-improvement books.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spotlight on the Board: Martha Fling

Martha Fling
Martha Fling joined the Ackerman Institute for the Family’s Board of Directors in June 2011. As a professional with an extensive background in wealth advisory services and mental health, including working as executive director of SeaBridge Residential Treatment Center in Malibu, Martha brings a great deal of experience, energy, and enthusiasm to the Ackerman Institute. A native of Los Angeles, California, Martha travels frequently to New York where her grown children have relocated and where she maintains an ever-growing network of business and philanthropic contacts. Currently, Martha is the founder of Drake Libby LLC, a firm offering investment solution driven services to families, individuals, endowments, and foundations.

Martha believes that joining Ackerman’s board combines both experiences of family involvement and philanthropy, values that are close to her heart. “I can use my financial skills and background in mental health to contribute, while deepening my commitment to help adolescents and their families. The exceptional faculty and staff at Ackerman inspires work that raises the bar for the therapeutic community everywhere!” Martha would like to expand our post-graduate training program in family therapy, and even dreams of providing opportunities for therapists outside of New York. Martha credits Ackerman’s President, Lois Braverman, for having a strong sense of purpose and vision for the Institute, and she is honored to be working with Lois, the board, and the faculty in moving our efforts forward.

Martha is this year’s co-chair of our Tribute to Families annual awards dinner, which will be held on Monday, October 22nd. She is already deeply involved with her co-chair Alice Netter, planning the success of this annual major fundraising event for Ackerman. Martha sees this as a great opportunity to increase Ackerman visibility, introduce new friends to our work, and lift up the values, resilience and strength of the families we serve.

We are delighted and fortunate to have Martha as a member of our Ackerman family, and we welcome her with open arms!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ackerman's Response to "Does Couples Therapy Work?"

The article “Three’s a Crowd: Does Couples Therapy Work?” appearing in the New York Times last week, elicited a strong reaction from many faculty and students here at the Ackerman Institute for the Family. The article, writing by Elizabeth Weil, describes the difficulties of being a couples therapist while implying there is little hope or chance of success for couples seeking therapy.

Ackerman Senior Faculty Evan Imber-Black’s response is as follows:

As a practicing couple and family therapist for 35 years, and recent editor of the field’s scholarly journal, Family Process, I was appalled to read the misrepresentation of the work of couple therapists. Citing outmoded theory and practice, the article sets up a straw man designed to scare away the very couples who may benefit from our work. Suggesting that couple’s therapy is a frightening context for the therapist is an insult to the daily healing of relationships provided by the profession. Decades of research show a 75% success rate in couple therapy, exactly the same as in individual therapy.

Quoting only men, the author derides the critical place of empathy in our work – in competent couple’s therapy, we join with both partners and with the relationship, providing a steady hand to enable them to regain mutual respect and negotiate differences. We are certainly not “ninjas,” an attitude that simply replicates the conflictual patterns that brought the couple to us in the first place.

Ms. Weil article has also drawn criticism from trainees and alumni of Ackerman Institute. Courtney Zazzali, who is currently a trainee at the Institute, says the following:

As a second year extern at New York’s own Ackerman Institute for the Family (AIF), I must offer an alternative perspective that was missing from Elizabeth Weil’s article, “Three’s A Crowd: Does Couples Therapy Work?” Ackerman Institute for the Family’s approach on couples/family therapy maintains that an “empathic, sensitive, calm, and accepting” therapist actually can competently create a holding environment for positive and real change to occur. Although Ms. Weil acknowledged the intense complexities that are usually uncovered in couples therapy, the “violent” metaphors of “therapist ninjas” and “helicopters in hurricanes” are hyperbolic. This article was heavily fear-based for both the budding couples/family therapist and a couple in crisis who need hope when confronting the challenges of our time. One can be calmly complex with distressed couples in crisis, while holding multiple, individual perspectives, and still be successful.

To read the complete article, go to:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ackerman Institute Launches New Special Needs Project

Ackerman Institute for the Family is excited to launch a new project for families who have children with special needs, including autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, sensory processing disorder and other developmental disabilities. The Special Needs Project will increase services for this population and train mental health professionals to address their unique needs and promote family resilience.

Ackerman faculty member Judy Grossman, DrPH, OTR, will be working as Project Director. Judy discusses her reasons for starting the project by saying that “Despite the increasing diagnosis of children with special needs, there is a shortage of high quality family-centered treatment. The early intervention and special education systems remain child-focused and fail to help families cope with the cumulative challenges they experience raising a child with specials needs.” The Project goals are to offer family therapy and multiple family discussion groups to more families who have children with special needs; to increase the capacity of family therapists to work with this constituency; and to offer workshops to professionals who work in special education schools and agencies.

The Special Needs Project will focus on child-related concerns and support parents as they cope with family stress and interactions with larger systems. Families will be seen at the Ackerman Treatment Center by an experienced family therapist who is part of a specialized treatment team. This team will collaborate to develop quality family-centered services and training materials for other professionals.

Project Director
Judy Grossman
Project Director Judy Grossman says that: “Too often, the attention is focused on the child with special needs with little recognition that parents are the most important influence on a young child’s development and the entire family is affected when a child has a developmental disability. Family needs are even greater when there are unresolved issues around diagnosis, services and family beliefs. Parents often feel anxious and unsupported. They may be busy with appointments, meetings and daily activities with their child, with little time to focus on their own needs, the marital relationship or the typical sibling. Family therapy addresses these concerns, yet it is not readily available to these families, or therapists do not feel confident to work with these families.”

Another way to expand family-centered services is to educate other professionals so that they consider family goals and priorities and focus on family strengths. The Special Needs Project will provide training and education to professionals working in special education schools and agencies. In addition, Ackerman Institute will continue to offer workshops that build on the team’s clinical work with families.

To learn more about the Special Needs Project, or how you can get involved, go to or contact Judy Grossman at